The Dan Brown Code: A Review of The Da Vinci Code

S. Randall Toms, Ph.D.

[ The book was better than the boring movie. (Editor's comment) So we present Dr. Toms' book review... ]

One of the most popular books of 2003 and 2004 was Dan Brown’s "The Da Vinci Code". It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for about a year. The novel is an exciting read, a real page turner that keeps one reading fast and faster to get to the conclusion. Dan Brown is an entertaining storyteller, but certainly not a great writer. While I enjoyed the book on one level as a thriller, there were other aspects of the book that were troubling. The novel raises some religious issues which I feel need to be discussed because of the popularity of the book. Also, Columbia Pictures has obtained the movie rights, and it appears that Ron Howard will be the director. With Ron Howard as director, there is a good chance the movie will be very well done, and the ideas expressed in The Da Vinci Code will become widespread. It is for this reason that I have chosen to write an analysis of the book.

Let me begin by giving a summary of the plot which involves nothing less than Jesus Christ and the Holy Grail. According to this novel, there is a secret society which has the responsibility of protecting the true identity of Jesus Christ. To make a long story short, the true identity of Jesus Christ is that he was an ordinary mortal man who had a child by Mary Magdalene. The Holy Grail is not the chalice that Jesus drank from on the night of the Last Supper, but rather, the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene. The blood line of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene has been preserved through the centuries. The early Merovingian kings were descendants of Jesus and Mary, and some of their descendants have survived to the present time. Supposedly, many early Christians, especially the Gnostic branch of Christianity, knew the truth about the real identity of Jesus and his relationship with Mary Magdalene. Constantine, and later, the Roman Catholic Church, fought to suppress this truth of the true identity of Jesus Christ. The Knights Templar once went to the Holy Land and found documents under the old temple site in Jerusalem. These documents contained this truth about the true identity of Jesus. The Knights Templar blackmailed the Roman Catholic Church with these documents, which explains why so many of the Knights Templar became rich and powerful. The Roman Church gave them money, land, and power to keep them silent. Later, so the story goes, the Knights Templar were destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church, but the documents containing the true identity of Christ were preserved through a secret organization known as the Priory of Sion. The Priory of Sion has maintained this secret to the present day. Past Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion have included such men as Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo Da Vinci. If one knows how to interpret the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, one finds clues which support the idea that Jesus and Mary were lovers, and that the Holy Grail was actually Mary Magdalene.. In the plot of this novel, some people are afraid that the true identity of Jesus Christ is about to be made known by the Priory of Sion, and these devout members of Opus Dei, a radically conservative Roman Catholic group, are determined to prevent this knowledge from ever being made public. I won’t discuss anything else about the plot of the novel, just in case people might want to read a good suspense story.

What needs to be discussed are the ideas that Jesus was not divine, that the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene, that she and Jesus produced a child, and that there has been a conspiracy through the centuries to suppress this knowledge. If Mr. Brown had written this book as a “what if” sort of novel, I would have had little problem with it. In other words, Mr. Brown should have written the book with the attitude, “What if Jesus and Mary produced a child and there had been a plot to suppress this knowledge.” Sadly, based on my research, it appears that Dan Brown actually believes that this conspiracy to suppress the knowledge of the meaning of the Holy Grail is true. Sadder still is his motivation for believing this conspiracy and his reasons for writing the book.

When I first started reading the novel, I was very interested in doing some research to find the basis for these ideas about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. I wondered if there really were some ancient manuscripts that supported such beliefs. I was willing to give Mr. Brown the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he had uncovered some ancient documents that contained this theory that there was a relationship between Mary and Jesus. But then Mr. Brown began to discuss something about which I knew. When I saw the inaccuracies at this point, I realized that he may have been stretching other “historical” facts, as well.

The point that caused me to call his accuracy into question was his portrayal of the Council of Nicaea. One of the characters, Leigh Teabing, who is “enlightening” another of the characters, Sophie Nevue, to understand that Jesus was just a mortal man, explains to her the history of Constantine and the Nicene Creed. According to this character, most Christians did not consider Jesus to be divine until the council of Nicaea. Lionel Teabing tells Sophie, “The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan emperor Constantine the Great”(231). Teabing goes on to say, “Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (234). Anyone who has done even a rudimentary study of how the canon of the New Testament was formed knows that Constantine did not decide which books would be included in the canon. The forming of the canon was a complicated process involving churches and bishops and their discussions covering over two centuries. No official list of New Testament books was decided upon at Nicaea. As a matter of fact, an Ecumenical Council of the Church never formulated a list of canonical books until the 16th century at the Council of Trent.

Teabing’s statements about the role of Nicaea become even more bizarre and distorted. I feel I must give the rest of the conversation between Teabing and Sophie:

“My dear, Teabing declared, “until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet...a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.”

“Not the Son of God?”

“Right,” Teabing said. “Jesus’ establishment as the ‘Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the council of Nicaea.”

“Hold on. You’re saying that Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?”

“A relatively close vote at that,” Teabing added. "Nonetheless, establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base.” (233)

This section contains so many historical inaccuracies, one could stop lending, at this point, any historical credibility to Brown’s book.

First, the vast majority of Jesus’ followers believed him to be divine long before Constantine. The reason so many of the early Christians were killed during times of Roman persecution was due to the fact that they would worship only Christ as divine and not the emperor. The early documents we have from Church history, even those from pagan and Jewish writers, recognize the fact that the early Christians regarded Jesus as divine. One of the strange, logical inconsistencies of Teabing is to say that none of the early Christians believed in the deity of Jesus, yet Constantine wanted Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the canon but not the gnostic gospels. If belief in the deity of Jesus was an invention of Nicaea, from where did all the other records come that supported his divinity before Nicea? We have gospel fragments dated before the 4th century where the gospel writers clearly indicate his divinity. You would have been hard pressed in the early days of the church to have found anyone who would have denied the deity of Christ. As a matter of fact, the early Gnostics had no difficulty affirming the deity of Christ. They had difficulty affirming the humanity of Christ.

Second, the council of Nicaea did not convene to discuss the divinity of Christ. The issue was not the deity of Christ, but the eternal deity of Christ. The council of Nicaea was convened, in part, to discuss the views of Arius, or “the Arian controversy.” Arius did not deny the deity of Christ. He only denied the “eternal” deity of Christ. In other words, Arius taught that there was some point at which the Father created the Son, but there was no question that the Son was a divine being. Thus, the idea in The Da Vinci Code that the deity of Christ was decided upon by a vote at Nicaea because Constantine wanted to unify the empire is totally ludicrous. The Nicene Creed only reaffirmed what the Church had consistently been teaching about Jesus Christ. (By the way, the vote on these theological issues was not close: only two of the 300 bishops gathered failed to sign the doctrinal statements formulate at Nicaea).

The argument of the "enlightened scholars" in The Da Vinci Code is that gospels which we have in the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which have been subjected to close study for centuries, are false. But, according to Leigh Teabing, there are some true gospels. What are the true gospels? Well, of course, they are those gospels which are not in our Bibles.

Why does The Da Vinci Code go into such detail to discredit our current version of the Bible? Teabing makes the crucial point: “What I mean,” Teabing countered, “is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” Now, we can see part of the Brown code. The book teaches that what Christians have historically believed about Jesus is false. But why is it so important for the world to realize this truth? To answer that question we need to look at the importance of the Grail legend. But before we look at the Grail legend, we must look at Brown’s true agenda, which involves nothing less than the worship of the sacred feminine-- the goddess.

According to Brown, until Constantine, the pagan religions offered a harmonious worship which balanced the masculine and the feminine. Constantine wanted a masculine God, so he deified Jesus and then proceeded to crush out the worship of the goddess. But the “true gospel” is that Jesus and Mary formed the perfect balance of the masculine and feminine, the yin and yang, if you will. But those mean, evil, patriarchal Christians after Constantine hated the goddess, the sacred feminine and suppressed the knowledge of how Jesus and Mary Magdalene had formed the perfect union.

Supposedly, people such as Leonardo Da Vinci knew this truth about Jesus and Mary. If one looks closely at his paintings, one can see how he gave us code language and symbols which reveal this truth. From Brown’s characters we learn such interesting “facts” such as the assertion that the portrait of John in Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper is not John at all, but rather, Mary Magdalene. While it is true that many art historians in the past have noted John’s effeminate features in this painting, that observation is a far cry from saying that this character is a woman, and that woman, Mary Magdalene. Nevertheless, Teabing asserts that Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene is “a matter of historical record,... and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact.” Teabing goes on to quote from some Gnostic gospels such as the Gospel according to Philip and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Teabing calls these “unaltered gospels” (248). Thus, according to Teabing, the gospels that we have in our current Bible are altered, therefore false, while these gnostic gospels are unaltered and therefore true. These gnostic gospels teach that the Church was not to be built on Peter, but rather, on Mary Magdalene. Teabing goes on to explain that after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene, pregnant with the child of Jesus, went with Joseph of Arimethea to France and had a daughter named Sarah. The family tree of Jesus has been kept as a record and protected by the secret society of the Priory of Sion. Evidently, the Priory of Sion has been guarding four huge trunks with thousands of documents which prove this story of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and their bloodline.

Where does Brown get all of this “historical” information. In The Da Vinci Code, he provides a short list of books, but on his web site he refers to even more. I will list a few of them: The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ; The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail; The Goddess in the Gospels; Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine, and most importantly, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dan Brown states that he spent a year researching this book. If these books were his sources, his “history” should be dismissed out of hand. As easy as it is to debunk Brown, it is just as easy to debunk his sources. On his web site, he is asked the question, “Would you consider yourself a conspiracy theorist?” He answers: “Absolutely not. In fact, I’m quite the opposite–more of a skeptic. I see no truth whatsoever in stories of extraterrestrial visitors, crop circles, the Bermuda Triangle, or many of the other ‘mysteries’ that permeate pop culture. However, the secret behind the Da Vinci Code was too well documented and significant for me to dismiss.” This statement is very unsettling. Dan Brown actually believes this stuff! He may not believe in such things as the Bermuda triangle, but his sources are no more reliable than those sources that spread the ideas that there is a hangar in Roswell, New Mexico housing alien bodies. His book and his sources of “factual” information are based on the same kinds of speculation, filling in gaps of information, and wild assumptions that stagger the imagination, described by some critics as “howlers.”

As much as Brown and his character, Teabing, argue that the traditional Gospels are false, while the Gnostic records are true, Teabing, in his own argument has to admit that there is no “proof” that his version of the Jesus/Mary story is true. He admits that the Magdalene story can be no more confirmed than the authenticity of the Bible (256). Then, Teabing says something quite interesting: “.... history is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books–books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe” (256). Teabing's reasoning is the typical deconstructionist argument against the reliability of history. But the point proves to too much. The point also contains many logical fallacies. We need to ask some important questions: Since history is written by the winners, is it necessarily false? Is a history written by the losers, necessarily true? Ultimately, the ideas of deconstructionists and Teabing lead to the idea that all history is unreliable. Nothing can be proved, and if that is the case, why make a big deal out of any documents, whether traditional, Gnostic, or otherwise. So what if there are thousands of documents that contain this story about Jesus and Mary. No document could prove that the traditional gospel accounts are false and that Gnostic documents, or the Priory of Sion documents, are true. By this line of reasoning, there is no reason to believe the Magdalene story over the traditional gospel and history of the Church.

The code within The Da Vinci Code, when deciphered is, “Destroy the Bible and the Church’s traditional understanding of it." Dan Brown's agenda is to discredit the Church. Several times the book makes the point that the reason the Church squashed the true gospel and obliterated the sacred feminine was in order to establish the power of the Church. According to Brown, the Church not only wanted political power, but the power to limit the manner in which people could have communion with God. According to The Da Vinci Code, the Church had to squash the sacred feminine, because the worship of the goddess taught another path to communion with God: sex, specifically intercourse. Langdon tells Sophie, “For the early Church...mankind’s use of sex to commune directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base. It left the Church out of the loop, undermining their self-proclaimed status as the sole conduit to God” (309). There has always been an individualistic element in the world which refused to see the necessity of the Church in achieving communion with God. Of course, in sex-crazed America, we have already made a religion of sex. Brown’s book appeals to our obsession with individualism and sex.

The Brown code, once it is deciphered, argues that three ideas must be abolished: 1) the traditional teaching concerning Jesus Christ; 2) the traditional Canon and interpretation of the Bible; and 3) the necessity of the Church. According to The Da Vinci Code, all three are false, and unnecessary, for union with God can be achieved through sexual intercourse. Langdon tells Sophie: “Our ancient heritage and our very physiologies tell us sex is natural–a cherished route to spiritual fulfillment–and yet modern religion decries it as shameful, teaching us to fear our sexual desire as the hand of the devil” (310). Contrary to what Langdon tells Sophie, not even the strict Puritans taught that sexual desire was shameful and the hand of the devil. The Church has taught that sexual union is beautiful, a picture of our union with Christ. Dan Brown deals in clichés and ancient arguments against traditional Christianity which have longed been proved false. As a Christian who has heard all these arguments and refuted them so many times, such sophomoric arguments become tedious and boring.

But what is the ultimate agenda for Brown? At one point Teabing says, “The quest for the Holy Grail is literally the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene. A journey to pray at the feet of the outcast one, the lost sacred feminine” (257). At last, the Brown Code has been solved. The Brown Code is a desire to reinstitute the worship of the Goddess. On his web site, Mr. Brown is asked the question, “This novel is very empowering to women. Can you comment?” Answer: “Two thousand years ago, we lived in a world of Gods and Goddesses. Today, we live in a world solely of Gods. Women in most cultures have been stripped of their spiritual power. The novel touches on questions of how and why this shift occurred...and on what lessons we might learn from it regarding our future.”

Perhaps this explanation by Mr. Brown reveals why this book has been so popular for so long. The book is not popular merely because it is a thriller. There are many thrillers on the market now, more exciting, and better written, than The Da Vinci Code. Its popularity in our culture stems from its condemnation of traditional Christianity and its glorification of sex as a religion. Americans love conspiracy theories. Many Americans would love to find it true that there has been a conspiracy to obliterate the real truth about Jesus. Anything that can discredit Christ and His Church is welcomed, since it will free people to live any way they please.

If The Da Vinci Code would have been presented as a work of fiction which contained characters such as Teabing and Langdon who are stupid enough to believe a hoax about Jesus and Mary Magdalene, I would not have bothered to write this review. Unfortunately, many people will believe that Brown’s book is based on actual historical evidence. There are thousands of people who have never taken the time to study to study the history of the early Church and the formation of the New Testament canon who will read Brown's book and think that he gives an accurate portrayal of Jesus, His Gospel, and the Church. Thank God many Christians are responding to this book and revealing its ungodly message.

Copyright c 2004 by Stephan R. Toms

Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. Doubleday: New York, 2003.